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Big Sky Notebook: UC Davis' 'long season' ends in first round of FCS playoffs

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UC Davis Tulsa Football

UC Davis quarterback Hunter Rodrigues looks to pass against Tulsa on Sept. 2 in Tulsa, Okla. 

BOZEMAN — The Big Sky’s record number of five football teams in the FCS playoffs has shrunk to four.

UC Davis’ season ended on Saturday in a turnover-filled 56-24 loss at South Dakota State. The Aggies finished with an 8-4 record and a No. 14 ranking in the Stats Perform FCS Top 25.

“I’m really proud of our guys,” said Davis coach Dan Hawkins, via the Davis (California) Enterprise. “It’s been a long season for us, like it has been for the Jackrabbits. But to get to this time of year and play in the playoffs, I give our guys a lot of credit.”

It was an especially long season for Davis quarterback Hunter Rodrigues. The junior began the season with back-to-back Big Sky player of the week honors. Then he struggled against Dixie State and Weber State and got hurt in the latter game. He appeared in four of the Aggies’ final eight games.

One of those appearances was in a 27-17 loss at Idaho State on Oct. 9. Davis was undefeated and ranked No. 7 going into that game, while ISU was winless. Rodrigues went 10 of 22 (45.5%) for 146 yards, two interceptions and a rushing touchdown in that game.

The Aggies rebounded with three straight wins, despite Rodrigues being sidelined for the last two, but they ended the season with three straight losses: 38-20 to now-No. 4 Eastern Washington, 27-7 at now-No. 8 Sacramento State and 56-24 at No. 11 SDSU.

“Our seniors have elevated this program in so many ways to a place where we couldn’t have imagined a few years ago. I wouldn’t trade these dudes for anyone,” Hawkins said, via the Enterprise. “We’re building a championship program and we’re making strides, but we still have a long way to go.”

Rodrigues entered Saturday’s game late in the second quarter, and he threw four interceptions. The Jackrabbits picked the Aggies off six times in the game.

Davis’ defense allowed 446 rushing yards and three TDs on 42 carries (10.6 ypc). It’s the seventh-highest single-game rushing total from an FCS team this fall.

“You have to tip your cap to the Jackrabbits,” Hawkins said, via the Enterprise. “You get in the fire and sometimes it’s painful and sometimes it’s joyous, but I hope our guys will always be willing to get in the fire.”

SDSU’s Isaiah Davis ran for 217 yards and a TD on 15 carries (14.5 ypc), and FCS rushing leader Pierre Strong finished with 188 yards and a score on 19 attempts (9.7 ypc).

“We got on a roll, and we have some pretty good running backs,” said SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier, via the Enterprise. “We beat a very good and well-coached football team.”

The Jackrabbits will face another Big Sky team this coming Saturday at Sac State in the second round. It will be the first-ever matchup for the two teams, as will Saturday’s second-round game between No. 7-ranked Montana State and No. 16 UT Martin in Bozeman, per Big Sky senior associate commissioner John Kasper.

The other two Big Sky teams left in the playoffs are No. 4 EWU and No. 5 Montana. They will face each other Friday night in Missoula, just over two months since EWU earned a 34-28 home win over the Griz.

Taylor named Big Sky coach of year

A day after unveiling its players of the year and all-conference teams, the Big Sky announced that Sacramento State’s Troy Taylor is its coach of the year.

Troy Taylor

Taylor

Taylor has received the honor in each of the two seasons he’s coached at Sac State. He won both Big Sky coach of the year and the Eddie Robinson Award, given to the FCS’ top coach, in 2019 (Sac State didn’t play last season because of the pandemic). He’s a finalist for this year’s Robinson award as well.

The Hornets are 9-2 overall and won all eight of their conference games to earn their first outright Big Sky title. Taylor’s overall record at Sac State is 18-6, and he’s gone 15-1 in Big Sky play. The one loss was 36-17 to Weber State on Nov. 2, 2019 at home. The Hornets shared the Big Sky title that season (with Weber State) and made the FCS playoffs, both firsts for the program.

Taylor was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Utah in 2017 and 2018, and he served the same role in 2016 at Big Sky school Eastern Washington. He starred at quarterback for Cal and was an offensive assistant coach there for three years. He spent many years coaching at the high school level and served as a Cal radio analyst for six years.

Montana native prepares for tough playoff game

Missouri State head coach and Montana native Bobby Petrino exited the FCS playoffs on Saturday, when the Bears were knocked off by UT Martin. His cousin, Jason, will coach this season for at least five more days.

Rocky head coach Jason Petrino

Jason Petrino, pictured on Aug. 23, 2018 in Billings when he was the head coach at Rocky Mountain College, is now the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois.

Jason Petrino is in his third year as the defensive coordinator at Southern Illinois, which beat South Dakota 22-10 on Saturday in the first round of the playoffs. Petrino served the same role at South Dakota from 2012 to 2015, and he was the head coach at Rocky Mountain College from 2016 to 2018.

Petrino is a Kalispell native who played defensive back at Carroll College. He also began his coaching career at Carroll, in 2000 as a DBs coach.

Another cousin of his, Paul Petrino, parted ways with Idaho (a Big Sky school) this month after nine seasons as the Vandals’ head coach.

SIU wouldn’t be able to face a Big Sky team in this year’s playoffs until the semifinals at the earliest. Simply getting to the quarters will be tough. The No. 21-ranked Salukis (8-4) will play at second-seeded and No. 3-ranked North Dakota State on Saturday.

Community Service Team announced

The third annual Big Sky Football Community Service Team was announced Monday.

The conference selected one player from all 13 of its football-playing schools. The honorees: Montana defensive end Alex Hurlburt, Montana State quarterback Tucker Rovig, Cal Poly wide receiver Kyle Reid, Eastern Washington linebacker Ty Graham, Idaho receiver Sean McCormick, Idaho State kicker David Allish, Northern Arizona defensive back Draycen Hall, Northern Colorado linebacker RJ Potts, Portland State tight end Malik Thirdgill, Sacramento State defensive lineman Wyatt Hjelm, Southern Utah QB Tyler Skidmore, UC Davis QB Hunter Rodrigues and Weber State D-lineman Sione Lapuaho.

In a press release, the Big Sky wrote that the Community Service Team “recognizes football student-athletes who have dedicated their time to helping others and have gone above and beyond in making an impact on their campus and community.”

Email Victor Flores at victor.flores@406mtsports.com and follow him on Twitter at @VictorFlores406

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